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When wine lovers go on a journey, they usually head south. Always fond of a good bottle, I nevertheless took off north to the northernmost point of our continent, the North Cape. I love Scandinavia, especially Norway, the land of a thousand fjords. Everything is different: nature, the sea, the people, the day and the night, even the wine. Of course, the wine has to be imported, because the climate in Norway is not made for grapes, despite warming by the Gulf Stream. This hardly hurts the wine lover, because in the globalised world, wines effortlessly reach even as far as latitude 71°10'21", the North Cape.

Vinmonopolet% a wide-meshed network of state-run shops% where alcohol is sold.

It is not the long journey that makes wine so expensive there; it is the state that tries to curb alcohol consumption with maximum taxes. For us, however, it is an unfamiliar sight when all the grocery shops and discounters lack the otherwise abundant wine and spirits on offer. Tobacco is also nowhere to be seen. On request, however, the shop assistant reaches behind a wall of slats - impenetrable to the eye - and brings to light a packet of cigarettes or a tobacco pouch. No problem, absolutely legal, just very expensive. For high-proof alcoholic beverages, on the other hand (in Norway these are already drinks with more than 4.75 percent alcohol by volume), there are no hidden shelves. Wine and spirits can only be bought at the state-owned "Vinmonopolet" or consumed in a licensed restaurant.

An old-style restaurant in Bergen - mainly frequented by tourists.

It is even forbidden to drink wine or even spirits on public property. For a hundred years, Norway (it is similar in the other Scandinavian countries) has tried to control alcoholism, which was widespread especially in the 19th century, with restrictive legal regulations. The many small, remote settlements, the hard everyday life of fishermen and farmers, the long darkness where the sun never appears for two months in winter, the barren soil, the harsh nature, the bitingly cold wind deep into the fjords, all contributed to people drowning their sorrows and hardships in alcohol all too often.

Fishing village in the Trondheimsfjord% at the foot of bare humpback mountains.

Twenty years ago, only a few pubs were licensed to serve alcohol. When I ordered wine in a hotel in Bergen back then, I was brought a sweetish juice that fell far short of the definition of wine - fermented from the fruit of the vine. In the meantime, much has changed. Norway is now - thanks to oil production - a rich country, with well-developed social networks, impressive transport links and attractive holiday offers. An important tourist institution is the former postal ship "Hurtigruten", which connects Bergen in the south of Norway with Kirkenes in the "far north".

Table set on the Hurtigrute mailboat. The wine list contains 30 wines.

The ship takes six days to reach the Russian border at the top, and after a few hours it sets off again on the arduous journey back to Bergen. It covers around 2500 nautical miles (4630 kilometres) and calls at 34 mostly small ports. "The most beautiful sea voyage in the world" proclaims the tourist advertising. Rightly so, in my opinion. That's why the best wine can't lure me south every now and then; the desire for the land of the Hurtigruten and reindeer in the north is much, much stronger.

Tourism has also brought about a relaxation of the strict alcohol regulations. In almost all hotels, in many restaurants frequented by tourists, both wine and spirits are a matter of course. But there is an almost bitter awakening for wine lovers. The wines are very expensive and the selection is - let's say - very idiosyncratic.

Travelling with the old postal ship (vintage 1964).

I studied many a wine list and bravely "fought" my way through the red wines of Hurtigruten. Among them were not bad wines, but inconsequential ones, just tourist wines, from many wine regions of the world: France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Germany, Argentina, Chile, California.

The "ship wine", the simplest wine on the menu, is also available by the glass. A decilitre costs about 9 euros, the whole bottle 45 euros. A proud price for a wine that can be bought for 7 euros in Germany. It is "Periquita" from the traditional Portuguese house J.M. da Fonseca, which has been exporting wine all over the world for over a hundred years. It is quickly noticeable that almost all the wines on offer come from large export companies. There are hardly any wines among them that were bottled at the winery, hardly any wines that achieve AOC status.

Ship wine Periquita by José Maria da Fonseca% Portugal

My beloved Languedoc was represented by, of all things, a rather mass-produced Merlot from Baron Philippe Rothschild, which costs a hefty 50 euros (in Germany, you can buy it in a shop for 7 euros). Admittedly, these are restaurant prices. Even if you calculate with the high factor of 3, it is easy to guess how heavily alcohol is taxed in Norway (the VAT alone is 25 percent for alcoholic beverages).

For the wine lover, however, it is not the price alone that gets to him. It is much more the choice: Vinmonopolet takes care of the purchasing, so that roughly the same wines can be bought in all the shops. Almost exclusively "merchant wines", which are good to drink but hardly have any individual character. The best wine I treated myself to on this trip came from the northern Rhone: "C" from "Cave de Claimonts" from the Crôzes Hermitage wine region, a family business that today cultivates about 140 hectares (cost in Germany: 10 euros), at the table it costs about 65 euros.

The Aurora Borealis north of the 70th parallel

So, as a wine freak, I never had to do without wine during the 12 days of travel, nor did I have to smuggle a few bottles into the country in my luggage. There was wine in every desired situation, but: at what price and what kind of wine? Bacchus has handed over the sceptre to Poseidon. And he conjures up - if you haven't indulged in wine too much - a wonderful spectacle in the sky: the aurora borealis. Those who move to the north have to decide: Bacchus or Poseidon. You can't serve two gods.


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